Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hip-hop & Feminism

This is something I have thought about for a looooong time. Something that comes up - often when I'm trying to make my friends listen to a new song I've become obsessed with. After they listen, they are generally horrified by the lyrics, and ask me "how can you listen to this, you are such a feminist?!"

And believe me, I've had to think about that. But I think I've come to some conclusions about why I am comfortable with this.

There were three main things I considered when thinking this over: Is this music something I need in my life? Is hip-hop actually sexist? and Am I comfortable listening to it, if in fact, it is sexist?

Is this music something I need in my life?
Yes. Bottom line, no other music makes me feel what hip hop does. There is something in those deep base beats that gets into my soul. I literally can not stop myself from dancing (or at least bouncing!) when I hear a good song. (Check out the drop about 15 seconds into m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar). At different points along the way I have tried to just stop listening to it and cut out all sexist music, but it never works. I eventually find myself back online searching out some kind of basey tunes.

Is hip-hop actually sexist?
First, I think it's important for me to recognize that hip hop comes from a culture I have never been a part of. Hip-hop started as a movement and a culture as much as a musical genre. Starting in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s lyrics mostly focused on social issues, and bringing to light the realities of life in the projects (Check out The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, as a prime example). It wasn't until the mid 90s that "gangster rap" really became a thing (and along with it came much more violent and misogynistic lyrics). But there are a lot of complicated and varying theory's as to why hip-hop took this turn (shitty white label execs being one of the potential reasons).

A lot of artist (even current ones) have really great songs calling out racism, police brutality, and economic inequality in marginalized areas. In the next breath they might talk about selling dope, and slaying b*itches.... does this make their songs about social issues irrelevant? I don't think so. I think there are a lot of complex reasons why someone might wish for "different hoes every night" because it's proof of their masculinity, among so many other things. And why they feel the need to prove their masculinity is another complex topic in itself.

Basically what I'm saying is context is everything. A lot of hip-hop artists have had a different past to myself, and different levels of exposure to feminist ideas (maybe none at all!). And although I do think they have some responsibility to educate themselves as they gain fame, I also need to respect the fact that I don't come from a hip-hop culture.

I think you might be surprised when you listen to other genres of music, to find that hip-hop is not alone in this problem. Sexist lyrics are alive and well in almost every genre of music (um.. country music much?) and I do think hip-hop gets the most flak for it. I am willing to guess this is because as a society we are far more willing to call out and condemn men of colour (especially "thuggish" ones) than we are "pretty" white boys.

Am I comfortable listening to it, if in fact, it is sexist?
I am. The context I explain above is the majority of the reason why I am okay with it. I love the music, and I feel I can enjoying it - knowing that I don't agree with everything thing they say.

That being said, I try my best to avoid artist or songs that explicitly encourage rape, or domestic violence. Everyone should know that this is not okay, and to sing about it in some fun way is unacceptable.

So this turned into a way longer post than I expected. But I really enjoyed thinking through this idea, and I wanted to share my thought process. I really do hope to see the genre grow to become less sexist (and less homophobic for that matter). Fingers crossed. 

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